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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Parenting little ones...and "getting no credit"

"I think the reason it's hard to parent infants and toddlers is because we don't and maybe won't get any credit for it."

I said it in the passenger seat to another young father wrestling with the emotions of raising two children under the age of 3.  He was talking about how frustrated he felt by the redundancy of it all, the mundanity of minutia, the seemingly meaningless motions of following them around, picking up the messes they leave everywhere, cleaning their poppy pants, mopping up their spills, dealing with their unhinged tantrums with no recourse of reasonable dialogue to remedy the lunacy of it all.  He was exhaling a sigh of futility I knew all to well.  It's the behind-the-scenes footage that seems so insignificant, dare I say beneath us...at least that's the feeling on certain days.

There are moments of unspeakable joy, and I feel I give the bright side almost exclusively on social media, but there's an often unspoken angst to parenting little ones that I want to take a moment to try and put into words.

Back to "getting credit".

I think one of the hardest parts of being at home with the boys on my days off (my wife does this all the time) and tending to their incessant needs is they won't remember what I'm doing with/for them.  I think it's almost rigged to be that way by God.  I say rigged because when a psychologist is asked the most formative years of a child's life that determines the health and well-being of their future, the answer is (drum roll, please) the years that they will never actively remember happening in early childhood development.

They won't remember the pain of tumbling down the stairs thankfully, but they will also never remember the times you stayed up at night with them while they screamed with a ruptured eardrum.  They won't remember the times you yelled at them for instantaneously doing the very thing you just told them not to do and have been telling them not to do for only God knows how many months on end, nor will they remember the times you pushed them on the park swing and crawled through the germ-invested tubes pretending to enjoy chasing them while your joints felt like you were dislocating your knee caps with every poignant pound on the plastic.  They won't remember the bedtime prayers or all the times you fed them spoonful by spoonful trying every trick in the book to make them eat their vegetables.  The messes, the fusses, the holding, the scolding...nothing.  The money you spent on diapers, formula, wipes, toys, treats, trips back and forth to places of play just to keep them entertained until nap time.  The sleepless nights, the meltdowns, the inconsolable cries for "who knows what", the short-lived contentment, the never-ending desire for more food, the inability to do things for themselves and their constant need for you to get them things, watch them do things, follow them as they show you things, listen to them as they try to tell you things in broken sentences and mispronounced words...trust me, this would be a long blog if I recounted what is coming to my mind in almost rapid fire.

What really gets you and what I think causes a good many parents to "check out" in this season is a fact that is hard to reconcile: The object of my affection will never acknowledge my investments, nor is anyone around most of the time to bear witness to the "good parenting".  There is no audible affirmation.  There is no tangible reward.  In a world where you are used to receiving credit for your sacrifices and servitude, there is either silence or scorn.  You parent by faith most of the time.

But here's the killer and the kicker...this is the most volatile stage of their development.  Even though they won't consciously remember your words, kisses, hugs, affirmations, stories, shelter, time, sweat, discipline, smiles, tickling, prayers, and training, they will subconsciously be shaped in this window of time that you can't make up for down the road.  If they aren't given enough physical affection and verbal interaction, they will be feral in certain critical areas of personal development.  What happens in the 1st six months is unique to the first six months...you don't make up for that when they turn 12.  If you don't snuggle, wrestle, talk and establish closeness of body and spirit in the first 3 years, that window of psychological formation closes and often never reopens.  And this is why the feeling of "not getting credit" has got to be overcome, because you have someone's life that's on the line and "selfless, thankless" parents get over the childish need to be rewarded for our labor.  It must be a labor of love, unconditional to the core.  But that's easier said than done when you look around you and there's no audience besides God.

He's the only one who knows the mindless hours of baby talk you're babbling as you try to get these "little lumps of flesh" to keep their food in their mouths as it dribbles down their chins and onto their bibs.  The sights, sounds, and smells of raising little ones can reduce you to a puddle, melting away your sense of significance.  But it is just a sense, and base and carnal sense.  Sensual, but not sensible.  For these unaccredited hours of unseen, unknown and largely unappreciated heroism are all-important.  Though it doesn't seem so, what our children will never remember will be the cornerstone of their very character.

The cornerstone is more important than the capstone.  No one drives by a house and comments: "What an amazing foundation!"  It rarely if ever gets any commentary because it has no curb appeal.  Yet it's underground holding everything in its place.

Just because you don't get credit for something doesn't mean it's not worth it.  It is often the things that will never receive an honorable mention that are the most honorable of all.  As Jesus said, "And he who sees what you do in secret will reward you openly."

We are parenting before the audience of God.  He sees.  He knows.  And that is all that matters.

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